Your body always needs plenty of energy to keep your brain making the best decisions and for the extra excretion of hiking.
A good rule of thumb for planning your hiking food is make sure every meal has a combination of;
- High Carbohydrate
- Moderate Protein
- Moderate to low Fats.
- And plenty of Water. (remember high sugar drinks, coffee and alcohol, heat and exercise all accelerate water loss.)
Simple Carbohydrates(sugary foods) are very useful for instant yet short duration boosts in energy, while the complex Carbohydrates and Proteins take longer to digest have a much slower release that lasts longer.
When digested, all your food breaks down into pieces, with the sugar part being stored in the body as Glycogen. The Body then combines Oxygen (from air) with Glycogen in a complex chemical reaction called the Kerbs cycle, to produce useable energy.
Planning your Menu
This is always going to be an entirely personal choice, but figuring out a basic hiking menu that you can always rely on for its “strength”(*1) which will;
- Always be refreshing and enjoyable(*2)
- Keep you energised through out a long hike
- Be of low carry weight
- Need Minimal preparation to eat(*3)
- Create minimal rubbish to carry out
- Survives your pack in an edible condition(i.e.: squashing, leaking, heat, cold)
Once you have defined this basic foundation menu its really easy to put your trip food together fast and have it as a back stop when you are trying new food ideas.
The next step is defining just how much you need to carry for your hike, is finding the happy medium between not enough food to cope with all eventualities and carrying to much.
While there are plenty of resources on line, that show you how to calculate food weights and calories counts in reference to your needs and the terrain, I find it way easier to just;
- At first, pack the amount of food you require normally for an active day, and then add halve again.
- Only eat as much as it takes to stop you being hungry (over eating will just make you lethargic.)
- If you consistently have a lot of food left over, then adjust the amount down a little. (its always good to have a little left over to account for the unexpected situations.)
- Always carry emergency food separate from your lunch and don’t count it as your trip food.
My Favourite Hiking Food.
When I first started hiking I needed allot of food to sustain me per day, now after getting much fitter and replacing simple sugars with much stronger foods I find that I can happily complete a day hike on;
- Chia Paste (dried or fresh – breakfast)
- Two serves of fruit (love the moisture of fruit)
- Cheese /Salami sandwich (indestructible, warm days turn it into a yummy melt.)
- Approx 60gm mixed nuts(the best track snacks)
- 2-3 litres of Water.
- In summer I often carry a separately packed green salad to add to the sand which.(avoiding soggy sandwich syndrome:-)
- Biltong as a snack, particularly when I can get the home made stuff from a friend.
- Dried Humus (Dried Hummus needs very exact amounts of water to rehydrate, so I accidentally discovered that it was easier to eat it dry and drink water…)
- Corn chips, Just as yummy when they are crushed and a little flavour and salt can be a nice pick me up.
- Small pot of honey,(often use a small 30ml pill container) which I use when the going gets real tough as yummy energy boaster – dipping a stick or my finger into the container.)
- On overnight trips, I simply add my favourite home dried meals, which at the most require a couple of minutes of boiling to re hydrate and taste way better then freeze dried commercial meals
- Hot drinks, on winter day hikes I’ll often carry my small gas stove and couple of serves herb tea or cocoa powder. (the best way to warm up is from the inside out )
- Chocolate, Maybe a small Whittaker’s slab per day, as my handy bribe or reward)
(*1) Strength to me is the measure of how well a food sustains you, its “stick ability” in your system and how much energy it gives. (This is the kind of food that you want to make up the most of your food weight). e.g.: my favourite Chia paste breakfast(complex sugars/ protein) will easily keep me satisfied till 1-3pm on a hiking day with out needing lunch, but a chocolate bar (simple sugars) will last maybe 30 minutes?
(*2) When the going gets tough, the weather gets rough, snacks and meals can be that light in the storm to look forward to, whether you are using it as an incentive to get to the next goal (mind tricks -breaking up a hard section into little achievable lumps) or looking forward to dinner.. Food is a spirit lifter.
(*3)At the end of a long days hiking,(overnight)or even at lunch time on a day hike, the last thing most people want to do is cook a meal from scratch( still see plenty of people doing it!) so having food that is pre cooked or takes minimal preparation is and absolute godsend.(like raw, dehydrate or dried food that is rapidly ready) Scratch cooking also means you have to carry around dead weight – stuff that you will never eat.